Both #1 and #2 are physically active. This is very much by design and lifelong persistence. #1 often enjoys team sports and personal bicycling, but these activities are also agitating, disturbing, and anxiety provoking. He’s very sensitive to criticism, very insensitive to advice and feedback, and by nature macho and blunt. That is a hard combination, but #2 is harder. I think #2 may be more typical of the active Asperger’s athlete.
#2 does not like exercise. He does it because it helps him psychologically as well as physically and because he wants to please me. I encourage it because it’s critical to his mental health. He is poorly connected to body signals — so I have to remind him to drink water, to eat, and adjust clothing to temperature. He dislikes this advice and when he’s stressed he reacts badly — but he is learning to use “I don’t want water” as a signal that he’s moving into a difficult mood zone. He does best on a full stomach in cool or cold weather and poorly in hot conditions.
#2 dislikes some activities less than others. Special hockey works for historical reasons and because his brother does it. It helps that the ice is cool. Currently he least dislikes mountain biking, cross country skiing and inline skating. He has liked climbing in the past but climbing gyms are a poor location for a meltdown (which still happen). He does all these things at what I consider a novice pace; far slower than he could manage if a bear were after him. Only hockey triggers bursts of impressive speed. His pacing doesn’t change even when he becomes skillful; he handles inline skating terrain with aplomb, but always slowly.
Unsurprisingly I’m almost always his one-on-one coach. There can be other coaches around though; such as on the High School Mountain Biking team he rides with. I sometimes think about what tips I might give those that are interested in helping people on the spectrum. In order of decreasing confidence I came up with…
- Ask parents/guardians what works and what to avoid.
- He won’t remember your name or that of any other riders. He won’t recognize your or anyone else if you see him on the street. He won’t remember you without cues. If you see him in a social setting say “Hi, I’m X. I am one of your coaches. It is good to see you. See you at practice. ” That’s about right.
- His limits are psychic, not physical. He very rarely approaches any kind of physical limit, long before that he feels emotionally exhausted. At the very best he can do about half of what a novice can do.
- He thinks social interaction and manners are a very good thing. He also finds them exhausting. This frustrates him as he wishes he could do them. He likes a short greeting, but dislikes any questions. He is temperamentally unable to engage in typical social conversation; for him insincerity is a crime. (He’s very sympathetic to people in distress if he recognizes the distress. He loves counseling people by letting them vent.)
- Give intermittent low key positive feedback. Understated, brief, positive. “Nice climb ___” is good. Minimize enthusiasm.
- Avoid any criticism of the form “you’re doing x, you should do y”. He has a wildly exaggerated response to well intended criticism; he plunges into despair.
- Give feedback in the form of “It’s ___ I’m going to ___”. For example: “It’s hot - I’m taking off my jacket.”, “I’m thirsty, I’m going to drink water.”, “I’m going to go fast down this bit so I can quickly climb the other side."
- He can be unexpectedly talkative. Polite responses are good. You don’t need to contribute much, just occasional topic related verbal prompts.